18 Clever Ways to Save on Utility Bills and Still Stay Cool This Summer

DragonImages/Getty Images

If you’ve paid for utilities for a few years, chances are you already know these bills can get way out of hand. I’ve known people here in Florida who’ve been slapped with electric bills exceeding $500 during the peak of summer!

Every bit counts when you’re trying to keep those costs down, so here are some tips and tricks that can add up to big savings.

18 Ways to Save Money on Utilities

Utilities are the services used to run your home, which include water, electric and gas. Some may consider phone, internet and other services utilities as well, but we’ll just stick to the first three.

Because your electric bill is the main one that can get out of hand, we’ll start with how to lower that.

10 Tips and Tricks for Saving Money on Your Electric Bill

Whether you’ve fallen victim to paying nearly half your rent or mortgage just to keep the lights on, or you’re just starting out and want to know what to expect, try these tips for cutting back your electric bill.

1. Change Filters and Keep Vents Clean

Let’s face it, air-conditioning vents aren’t pretty. You may feel inclined to place furniture in front of them, which is no big deal as long as you leave some space. My family learned this the hard way when we kept our couch too close to the vent, and our air conditioning would freeze up and pump out hot air until it eventually gave out — whoops!

Filters need to be changed regularly. When they get clogged up with dust, dirt and pet hair, the airflow becomes blocked, making your air-conditioning unit work harder until it decides to call it quits. Change out those filters every month or so, and use your vacuum’s brush extension to brush off and suck up that dust.

The same goes for your outdoor unit: Trim back bushes and remove any debris touching the unit, leaving at least a foot of space for it to work its magic.

2. Adjust Your Thermostat Throughout the Day

I’ve been adjusting my thermostat before I leave my home ever since I began living alone and became responsible for all of the bills.

What I’ve learned is to avoid setting the temperature too high, or at least too far above what you’d consider a comfortable temperature. If the temperature is set too high, your unit will have to work even harder to cool the place down when you get home. This drives your power bill up and can also stress the unit, and no one needs added stress — not even your air-conditioning unit.

If you own a home, you can really put it on autopilot by investing in a programmable thermostat that adjusts the temperature according to the schedule you set. And if you have a relationship with Amazon’s Alexa, you can get a smart programmable thermostat and use voice control to adjust the temp while you’re home.

3. Invest in Fans

Fans use way less energy than central heating and cooling systems, blades down. (Get it? Hands down?)

Ceiling fans can save you money on utilities both in the summer and winter, because most come equipped with a switch to change the rotation direction — set them to counterclockwise in summer to bring down the cool air, and clockwise in the winter to pull cool air up and push warm air down. They’re especially useful if you live in a top-floor apartment that’s blasted by the sun during the peak of summer. Trust me, I know.

If you can’t invest in ceiling fans or are renting from a landlord who refuses to install them, not all hope is lost. Just get some pedestal fans. They also use way less energy so you don’t have to turn down that thermostat any lower than it needs to go. Some even come with remote controls — oh, technology, how I love thee.

4. Get Into the Habit of Unplugging

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of leaving EVERYTHING plugged in — and the TV on for the pets, because I feel like a bad parent for leaving them alone all day. But apparently, unplugging EVERYTHING is a big help in reducing your electric bill, because plugged-in appliances can draw in what is called a “phantom charge” — yup, there really are ghosts in your home.

Considering the amount of technology we rely on in our homes these days, these phantom charges could be driving our power bills way up.

Unplugging everything before work sounds like a whole lot of extra effort to add to my already rushed mornings, so ordering some smart power strips and extension cords may be a pretty good investment.

Also, your electrical outlets could be letting cool air escape while pulling warm air in (and vice versa), so socket seals are another way to save on energy. And if you have sockets you’re not using, consider outlet plug covers for a complete seal.

5. Invest in Fancy Curtains

By fancy, I mean blackout curtains that block out light and noise while keeping cool or warm air from escaping, allowing you to set your thermostat a few degrees higher or lower than you normally would.

Unless you’re a night owl (or a vampire) and get all your sleep during the day, there’s no need to get these for every window in your home. Just buy them for the ones getting the most sunshine throughout the day or leaving room for drafts during winter.

6. Check Your Ductwork and Attic

Your home’s ductwork and attic can also be allowing warm or cool air to escape, and there are a couple of obvious signs when they’re in need of repairs.

If you can see the support beams in your attic, your attic needs more insulation. As for ductwork, seeing dust is actually a good thing. If you see parts of your ductwork that aren’t collecting dust, this means air is leaking out of the joints and seals, and it needs to be patched up.

The Department of Energy’s website has more in-depth instructions for how to insulate your home, and you can find plenty of DIY tutorials on YouTube. However, insulation takes skill to install, and recommendations vary by climate, so it’s really best to hire a professional to inspect and do the work for you.

7. Replace Burnouts With Energy Savers

The Department of Energy’s website says that replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs, like halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), can save you $45 a year.

Which one you choose depends on how much you’re willing to spend, how often you’re willing to replace them and your lighting preferences; however, the general consensus across the interwebs is that LEDs are the way to go. Of course, these generally cost more, but they save more energy and last longer than the other two options, so the investment may be worth it.

There’s no need to replace every light bulb in your home at the same time. Just replace them as they burn out, that way your energy savers can be money savers from the start.

8. Cut Down Drying Time With Dryer Balls

I first encountered dryer balls when I was doing laundry at my sister’s. I assumed they were meant to prevent static and wrinkles, but apparently they do more than that.

Dryer balls can actually cut drying time by up to 25%. So not only can you save a little bit of money, you can also cut down your chore time.

They could have saved me quite a bit of money when I lived in an apartment complex. The cost was a quarter per 10 minutes of drying time, and it took at least an hour to dry a load. I died a little inside every time I had to go get quarters…

9. Upgrade Your Appliances

Heating and cooling systems, refrigerators, ovens and washers and dryers cost quite a bit of money upfront, but investing in energy-saving options will save you money in the long run.

Because these big-ticket appliances are an investment, you might need to budget and figure out ways to save money ahead of time.

You can also check out the best times to buy new appliances by keeping track of big sales and new model releases. The best sales usually fall around holidays, including Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day and Black Friday.

Many brands also run sales with deeper discounts when they’re planning on rolling out new models, which usually happens in September, October and January. (The exception is refrigerators, which usually make their new model debuts in May.)

If you’re comfortable making these buying decisions online or simply like to avoid crowded stores, you can find discounts on all appliances year-round. However, shipping costs can add up, so be sure to shop around and compare prices.

You may even be able to find upgraded used appliances on sites like eBay, Craigslist, OfferUp, LetGo and Facebook’s Marketplace, and at donation centers like the Salvation Army.

10. Check Out Options From Your Power Company

In Florida, we can go from “Oh, what nice weather we’re having!” to “Holy fireballs, Batman, is the sun trying to kill us?!” in a single day.

As usual, it started to heat up between March and April, and I noticed my power bill slowly creeping up. By May, the Florida sauna had officially activated, and my bill jumped to $120 — a $30 increase in just one month. Luckily, my power company offers something called budget billing that averages my bills to create a flat-rate bill with no surprises.

During the nicest time of year, when I can actually open my windows and let in some fresh air, my power bill sits at a manageable $50 to $60. Now I’m paying a flat $76 a month, and I don’t have to worry about my bill getting out of hand as we get closer to the hottest months of the year.

Check your power company’s website, or call the company to discuss what it has to offer.

7 Tips for Saving Money on Your Water Bill

Unless you’re living in a household with several other people or your home has leaks, you don’t have to worry as much about your water bill getting out of hand. But there are a few things you can do to shave some dollars off that bill, while going green to protect the environment.

Who said it isn’t easy being green? Oh yeah, Kermit. But he’s a fake frog.

So if you’re interested in learning how to save money on your water bill — and making Kermit a liar — then follow these seven tips.

1. Develop These Water-Saving Habits

Remember when mom used to yell at you for letting the water run while brushing your teeth, or doing the dishes, or for sleeping in the shower? (I know I wasn’t the only one guilty of falling asleep in the shower during my high school years. Or was I?)

Well, she wasn’t just saying that because it’s a “mom thing”; it was because she was paying the water bill. So now that you’re the one paying, get in the habit of turning the water off while brushing your teeth. You can take it a step further by turning the water off between lathering yourself and your hair up in the shower (and not sleeping with the water running).  

2. If You Have a Dishwasher, Use It

You would think a big appliance like a dishwasher takes a lot of water to run, but it actually uses less water than washing dishes by hand — and apparently it does a better job of sanitizing, too. If you ask me, any reason not to hand-wash my dishes is a win.

This doesn’t mean you should run the dishwasher every time there are a few dishes loaded up — make sure it’s a full load to be the most cost-effective.

3. Use Less Water When Flushing

My dad was a big fan of “This Old House,” so I’ll take any home improvement recommendation if it comes from Bob Vila.

Vila has a simple trick to saving water when flushing that doesn’t involve dropping a couple hundred bucks on one of those water-saving toilets: Simply fill a couple of plastic soda bottles with an inch or two of pebbles or sand, and fill them up with water. Then, screw on the lids, and put them in the toilet tank. Make sure they’re away from all the operating mechanisms.

Not only are you saving water per flush, but you’re recycling, too! Being green is getting even easier.

4. Master the Art of Washing Clothes

There are a few ways you can conserve while doing laundry.

First, be sure you have a full load, rather than washing several smaller loads. Then, be sure to wash that full load on cold, which will help save energy.

According to Consumer Reports, washers and detergents have evolved to the point that it’s perfectly fine to wash everything on cold — even your whites. The only exception is when someone in the household is sick or when washing soiled clothes and linens. Then, be sure to turn the temperature to hot or warm, and use bleach if possible.

Finally, feel free to skip that extra rinse. Just be sure you’re not using more detergent than you need. Not only will you save money on water (and detergent), but your clothes will smell better, too.

5. Keep an Eye out for Leaks

Find and repair any leaks, whether they’re from dripping faucets or toilets. According to Vila, running toilets send gallons of water down the drain on a daily basis. Before you call that expensive plumber, check out YouTube. There are a few video tutorials on how to fix a running toilet yourself.  

Also, when turning off faucets, be sure you’re turning them off all the way. One night, I found my cat in the bathtub drinking from my leaking faucet. Before sending my maintenance request, I tried turning the handle as far as it could go, and it turned out that was all I needed to stop the drip.

6. Invest in Water-Saving Showerheads and Faucets

If you have multiple people using water in your home every day, replacing your showerheads and faucets with water savers can be a great investment. There are plenty of options for water-saving showerheads, like this one that purges cold water when the water is turned on, and then restricts the flow once the water heats up.

For replacing faucets, Vila recommends looking for those labeled as WaterSense certified. Because the costs can be high, be sure to shop around.

7. Adjust Your Water Heater Temperature

The default temperature for water heaters is 140 F, which wastes between $36 and $61 a year, according to the Department of Energy.

According to the DOE, lowering the temp to 120 F is perfectly fine for the majority of the population. If you or a member of your household has a chronic respiratory disease or a suppressed immune system, though, it may be best to keep your water heater set to the default temp.

Bonus Tip: Run Your Appliances at Night

Some utility companies can be sneaky and increase their rates during the day, which are considered peak hours. They might say it’s to encourage conservation, but we all know everyone needs to make money.

If your water and/or power company charges different rates depending on the time of day, consider doing some chores at night. Running your washer, dryer and dishwasher at night can help you avoid being charged the higher rate and save you money on both your electric and water bills in the long run.

This is also a great way of getting into the habit of loading up that dishwasher after dinner, so you won’t have to soak or scrub those leftover dishes before loading them up in the dishwasher — saving even more on water costs.

A quick way to tell if your power company charges two rates is to look at your outdoor meter for two rows of numbers. This article gives tips on how to read and understand electricity meters, and this article gives tips on understanding your water bill with a breakdown of how you’re being charged.

But if you’re unsure of whether your utility companies charge different rates, your best bet is to check their websites or just give them a call.

Now that you’re armed with all of these handy tips and tricks for saving money on utilities, let’s see just how much you can save.

Jessica Gray is an editorial assistant at The Penny Hoarder.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.